It is easy to forget that women face unique hazards, both large and small, in the workforce. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to risk. There are things that Human Resources can and can’t do to protect women from injuries at work.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that women suffer from job-related stress, musculoskeletal injuries, violence, and other hazards of the modern workplace at rates higher than those for male workers. Other findings?
- Gender-specific work stress factors, such as sex discrimination and balancing work and family demands, may have an effect on women workers above and beyond the impact of general job stressors such as job overload and skill under-utilization.
- Women may receive less on-the-job safety mentoring than men from supervisors and co-workers. This can create a potentially dangerous cycle in which tradeswomen are asked to do jobs for which they are not properly trained, then are injured when they do them or are seen as incompetent when they are unable to do them.
In my experience, many Human Resources professionals defer the bread and butter safety issues to line managers and special safety committees. This has always bothered me because HR practitioners write job-classification documents, create job postings, and provide input on key hiring decisions. When we position ourselves as experts in talent, we should demonstrate an equal amount of concern for the personal safety and security of our employees. Whether it’s safety training for our female correspondents or ergonomic adjustments for our pregnant customer service representatives, HR can make a difference. And although HR should never own the sole responsibility of ‘safety at work’, I believe that safety — much like culture, wellness, and technology — can be a key differentiator for Human Resources departments.
More importantly, preventing physical injuries to women is a lofty and important goal for Human Resources. I hope it’s one that you will consider when writing your strategic Human Resources plan and goals for the upcoming year.
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